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September 23, 2021

Outsiders Radio: Episode #77

AIR DATE: July 2021

SHOW THEME: Jeffrey Steele

ERIC: Hey everybody, it’s Eric Church back for the seventy-seventh episode of “Outsiders Radio.”  I hope you’re all having a great summer.  We’ve been playing some festivals this month, including Country Thunder in Wisconsin and the historic Cheyenne Frontier Days in Wyoming.  We’ve got a few more shows scheduled before the Gather Again tour begins in September.

We’ve been spotlighting some of the writers who joined me in North Carolina to write songs for the Heart & Soul albums.  You’ve already heard from Luke Dick, Luke Laird, and Casey Beathard.  In this episode of Outsiders Radio, you’ll meet Jeffrey Steele.  If you don’t know his name, you definitely know his hits, including THIS one from Montgomery Gentry.

Montgomery Gentry with one of their hits written by Jeffrey Steele, who we’re spotlighting here on Outsiders Radio.  Jeffrey was one of the writers who joined me at a January 2020 songwriting retreat in North Carolina. He & Casey Beathard were there the same week.  Here’s JEFFREY’s recollection about how it happened.

Jeff: I get a call on my phone, and you know how your phone will say ‘Maybe Eric Church?’  So I pick my phone up and say, ‘Eric?’ He goes ‘Steele, you gotta come up here, we got one more week here, we have the whole band, the writers are here, you gotta come up, you can ride my bus and come to North Carolina.’  That’s how it initially started.  So at that time, you probably know the history of Casey Beathard at that time, he’d lost his son, his son was murdered.  This is a crazy story I’m gonna tell you.  I lost my youngest son 13 years ago.  So when I heard Casey’s son got killed,  I was praying that I could get hooked up with Casey to hug him and talk to him as a friend. Eric calls me and tells me to jump on his bus to write songs.  I get on the bus, and who’s there, but Casey Beathard.  So me & Casey ride to North Carolina to see Eric, and we’re just laughing & crying, talking about our boys, and so I was getting to help Casey heal, and Eric was facilitating it. Pretty amazing, pretty amazing time in my life right there.

Up to that point, the main musical connection I had with Jeffrey Steele was a song he wrote for Keith Urban.

Jeff: You know Keith Urban recorded a song I wrote called Raise Em Up and got Eric to sing the second verse, so I had that connection with Eric, and that was a neat thing too because I never got to thank him for that.

Keith Urban and a song partly written by our featured writer this week: Jeffrey Steele.  Before that song, we heard how Jeffrey & Casey Beathard came out to a writer’s retreat I was hosting in North Carolina.  The first song we wrote together was “Love Shines Down.”

Jeff: My nature is to go to a guitar riff and come up with a cool musical idea, and I started playing the beginning of Love Shines Down, and Eric had the title and it went from there. I stayed out of the pathway of Eric & Casey.  Even though I’m a lyric guy, I felt like I was in a different role, and let them figure out what the theme of this was, and I tried to aim it musically.  I love playing my guitar, so I’m the first guy to look for the music, so I was concentrating on the groove, throwing in lyrics where I could, and they were great.  Eric, who I’ve never gotten to write with before, was blowing my mind, so it was a great process, and that was Love Shines Down.

That’s Love Shines Down, a song we wrote with Casey Beathard and Jeffrey Steele.  We actually wrote a couple of songs together, and here’s Jeffrey’s recollection about Doin’ Life With Me.

Jeff: The next day we get up, and I’m pretty sure it was Casey’s line ‘Doin’ Life With Me.’ He had the beginning thread of it, of the lyric, so I got out my guitar and played the first riff that came to my head, and it was this descending picking line, and if you analyze it, it might sound like My Town by Montgomery Gentry which I wrote. It’s got the same kind of movement, different riff, but a banjo line. So I start playing this riff on my guitar, and Casey lit up, and sang ‘It ain’t easy puttin’ up with a road dog,’ and then Eric started throwin’ down. What we were doing was talking about our lives as musicians and how these women put up with us. It came out of that, and then it evolved with Eric’s fans, but we were just in a place where we all live in a similar life, and were writing about the people in our lives who put up with us, and it came pretty fast. It came in about 15 minutes.

That’s the second song we wrote with Casey Beathard & Jeffrey Steele, from our middle album we call “&.”  There’s actually another Jeffrey Steele song on the Heart album, and it’s a song with a very interesting story.  Here’s Jeffrey.

 Jeff: Eric knew nothing about the song while we were up there. Casey didn’t hear the song until we were on the bus going home. And he sent it off to Eric. I didn’t get another call from Eric until I got home. Then my phone rang again, and it was Eric and he goes, ‘Man I can’t get past the second verse, I’m gonna cut the song.’ And it just blew my mind. And then a few weeks later, I don’t have to tell you, the world was burning, statues were coming down, and the world was going crazy.  And Eric called me and he said he was gonna put it out, it seemed like the right thing to do in the way the world is, I’m gonna come with it, and I wrote the song 6 years ago, and it wouldn’t float because there wasn’t a reason to sing about that stuff, and now there was a reason to put out a song that had this message in it. And then the world changed, and here was Eric thinking the world needs to hear this.  And I’m so grateful through that chain of events that song got to him because nobody else would have had the balls to do it.

I’m Eric Church and we’re spotlighting the writer of that song, Jeffrey Steel, this week on Outsiders Radio.  The next step in the life of that song was performing it on the ACM Awards, and Jeffrey Steele picks up the story with that night.

Jeff: I knew he was going to play the song, but I didn’t know it was coming. And dude my phone, the whole industry was blowing up.  The first text I got was from Keith Urban and he goes ‘Man that’s some Johnny Cash right there.’  I still got that text. It was so cool. He couldn’t have set this up better. Keith was hosting the show that night too.  He texted me ‘That’s some Johnny Cash right there.’  It sure is, and hey where are those guys?  In a sea of successful artists, nobody is saying anything. All I can say is, beyond grateful, him seeing the moment of like what was going on in the world, and saying we need to start talking about important things sometimes. That’s what Merle Haggard did, that’s what Johnny Cash did, that’s what Kris Kristofferson did, that’s what Waylon & Willie did, and that’s what Eric did.

A couple of country music legends: Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.  They were inspirations for ME, and also for the songwriter we’re spotlighting here on Outsiders Radio: Jeffrey Steele.  He drew on those legends, as well as his own life, when he wrote a hit for Tim McGraw.

Jeff: The Cowboy in Me was my first #1, and that was a song about me, about my shortcomings, and failures, and whenever I write a song, I’m trying to write a song I’ve lived through. Because when I play my shows, everybody in my audience has lived the life, and it’s probably similar to my life in some way. So I know I have to document the truth in my life and it was a healing song to write, even thought it was pretty dark and heavy, especially at that time in country music. I think it was the 4th single from that album, and it was a huge song for Tim and everywhere I go people want to hear that song.

Jeff: I wrote it in the late 90s, and it got cut in the 2000s, but when I wrote it, I had this drummer in the room, and I told him I wanted to make a loop, and wanted to put a Mellotron, which is what The Beatles used, I want to create this bed to sing this lyric to, because I was playing chords that weren’t country music changes.  It was more of a rock & roll approach to country, the lyrics were very country, which was my thing, I had these 70s influence. So I built this loop that was like Strawberry Fields, and told the musicians to play to the loop. I want to see if we can get a vibe that doesn’t sound like typical country, but the lyrics were stone cold country. When I said it, this was me, I never heard anything like this before.

A couple of big hit songs for Trace Adkins, written by Jeffrey Steele, who we’re spotlighting this week on Outsiders Radio.  He’s had a lot of success in the last 20 years.  But BEFORE the hits, he spent a lot of time as a Music City outsider, banging on doors trying to get artists to record his songs.

Jeff: I had these crazy songs like Hell Yeah and Speed and Chrome and I’m Tryin,’ and couldn’t find anybody to cut these songs, and then here’s Trace Adkins and Montgomery Gentry looking for songs. So I’m stuck with having to come up with a hit for Montgomery Gentry, and so I call the label and ask what they need for the album. The label says ‘We gotta have My Town part 2.’ That was a song I wrote.  I said, ‘That’s a joke. That’s like Jaws 2.’ And then I said, ‘I wanna write something I can be proud of.’ And I hung up and called my co-writer and told him we gotta write Something To Be Proud Of. It ended up being one of the biggest songs they had. So I was trying to figure out ways to keep doing what I was doing in the mainstream of country music.

 

A couple Montgomery Gentry songs written by our featured writer Jeffrey Steele, as we wrap up this edition of Outsiders Radio.  Next month I’ll introduce you to the newest member of our band: Billy Justineau.  But before we go, it was exactly ten years ago this week that my album Chief was released.  That album changed a lot for yours truly.  I’m so thankful for the reception it received back then, and all that’s happened since.   In fact that same week in July 2011, the first single Homeboy peaked at #13 in the chart.  I’m Eric Church, see you next time on Outsiders Radio.